Reality TV: NBC's <I>The Voice</I>
Issue: February 1, 2018

Reality TV: NBC's The Voice

NBC’s hit reality/competition show The Voice, currently in its 14th season, has been crowning outstanding vocalists as winners since 2011. The four-time Emmy award-winning series, which airs on Monday and Tuesday nights, is a presentation of MGM Television, Talpa Media USA Inc., Warner Horizon Unscripted & Alternative Television. It was created by John de Mol, who serves as executive producer, along with Mark Burnett, Audrey Morrissey, Lee Metzger, Chad Hines, Amanda Zucker, Kyra Thompson and Stijn Bakkers, and stars Carson Daily as host, country singer Blake Shelton and Maroon 5 rocker Adam Levine as coaches, as well as two additional revolving coach positions that began with Christina Aguilera and CeeLo Green, and whose red chairs have since been occupied by Gwen Stefani, Pharrell Williams, Alicia Keys, Usher, Shakira, Miley Cyrus, Jennifer Hudson and most currently, pop superstar Kelly Clarkson.

Viewers at home watch as contestants audition in front of the four judges, whose backs are facing the stage, in hopes that a coach will turn their now famous red chair around and pick that contestant to be a part of their team. Once each judge has filled all of the open positions on their teams, singers compete through several stages until finally the remaining vocalists are ready for the live shows.

Editor Jason Stewart  (pictured below), who has been cutting the show for the past six-and-a-half years, and who has also worked on other reality television programs, including Masterchef, America’s Got Talent and The Amazing Race, says there’s a misperception about the folks who work in reality TV. 

“I do think it’s possible that reality editors sometimes get the short end of the stick,” he says. “I think that maybe, because of some of the shows that have come before that were slapped together and had low quality standards, that it’s easier for people to take a broad brush and go, ‘They don’t really have an eye for detail’ or ‘They don’t really know how to craft a story — it’s just interviews and footage.’ I think there’s a misperception that someone like myself, or my colleagues that have been doing this 20-plus years, wouldn’t be able to take on a challenge like a feature film or scripted show or commercial. 

I think time after time, that’s proven wrong when people get out there and do really good work on that side of the business. I think yeah, I do feel that editing is editing, it’s a cliché, it is storytelling, and knowing that your story is working or your audience is responding, you feel you have what it takes to make it as an editor. As an editor for scripted television, you have to have an eye for detail, every detail matters, you don’t put anything in the timeline that doesn’t absolutely make the show better. But I believe the same is true for an editor working on a reality show, too. It’s all the same creative act.”

According to Stewart, who cuts The Voice on an Avid Media Composer, one of the biggest challenges of editing the show is the enormous amount of footage that’s created for each season. The show’s format features five stages of competition that begins with Blind Auditions, then the Battle Rounds, Knockouts, Playoffs and, finally, the Live Performance Shows.

“I think even if you don’t know that that’s your problem, that might be your problem,” he laughs. “What happens is, someone will go and shoot footage for a home follow up and that segment, their backstory segment, is two and a half minutes long, yet they might shoot seven, eight, 10 hours of footage for you to integrate. The unfortunate reality of that is the more footage that’s shot, the more footage just doesn’t get looked at. You simply don’t have the time. There might be some gold in there, some clips you just never discover because you don’t have time in the schedule to look at everything. So, a lot of stuff just may never get seen or used, and that’s too bad because I’ve done some production too where you go out and shoot the stuff and you really have an idea that it’s great, and the editor is sitting there looking at 50 clips in the bin and some of them are 15 minutes long, and they’re like, ‘Oh, I just need a shot of him with his wife,’ and boom, ‘I’ll take that.’ That’s all you get.

“It’s kind of a disservice to the producers to get all this great work in the field and then you just really have to grab and go because you don’t have time to really know the footage. Some shows are really great at having producers sit down, log and mark their own footage, and prep it for the editors. You really know what’s there. And sometimes you’re just given the footage and told to cut it. The person leaves the room. There’s a great freedom in that, but the downside might be that some of that great stuff might not make it because no one had time to find it.”

Stewart says that a show like The Voice has a few different styles of editing requirements, simply because of the nature of the format. “At first, there’s sort of the super tease that gives you the adrenal boost at the top of the show, a certain kind of movie trailer editing style. When you get into the reality segments, which are the background packages, they’re going for a documentary feel. More and more over the years, we’ve tried to get away from the formulaic walk back and forth bites and more towards the nerves backstage documentary. A lot more of the emotion and personality needs to come through there. Then when we get to the stage, it’s really that live event kind of editorial. I know that when a lot of us edit the comments and the sections that happen after a performance, you do get into a little bit of thing where you want to cut the thoughts of the coaches in a way that really represent what they said, but also have a little bit of a live feeling. We want it to feel more conversational and loose and live, so when you got to the live shows, it’s not a different world. There are those three aspects of the editing that are sprinkled throughout the show. In a way, it’s one of the challenges of the show, to be able to switch gears from the documentary mindset that you’re in to the live stage show part — it’s also what keeps it from being too monotonous.”

In order to meet production deadlines, the show requires fast turn-around times from when the footage is shot to when it airs — sometimes just three to four days. “That’s the expectation,” Stewart says. “Generally, it takes that amount of time to sort of go through the footage, because there’s a large amount of footage to look at and a lot of decisions to make.”

With roughly 20 editors working on The Voice, they are broken up into several teams and then leapfrog one-another, with certain teams working on certain episodes. “When working on episodic shows, you’re the editor of that episode. You own it. You know every inch of the footage. You know everything about it and you’re responsible for it. 

A lot of times what can happen on reality shows is you can get passed a segment that someone else edited — a segment that you’re not familiar with and don’t know that footage. You’re being told, ‘We want to change things on it' and you have to familiarize yourself with the footage because the editor that started on it is now busy on something else." Stewart says that that’s an advantage to working on scripted TV — the familiarity with the material because it’s been your episode from the beginning. "On reality, you’re sometimes just passed something you have never seen and you have to get up to speed quickly.”

Stewart certainly admits that reality TV has its challenges, but when he sits down in front of a segment for a reality show, it’s what he calls “a blank canvas. You can go in any direction you want. In some cases, you can start at the end of the story…it’s your ballgame. You can craft a story however you feel it might work in the confines of the show. I’d say the thing I like most and value about working in reality TV is having that creative freedom in the beginning stages. Then it’s almost like every other kind of editorial after that — you’re just doing the notes — what the director wants, what the producers want, what the network want. But those first couple of days where it’s just you and the footage and you’re finding your way, that’s a great feeling, of any project, but especially reality shows.”